National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

Canada’s economic recovery from COVID-19 won’t be easy. Luckily, there’s a talented new generation ready to grow Canada’s innovation economy – but they’ll need help to do it.

Young innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs will play an outsized role in the path to Canada’s future prosperity, bringing new knowledge, creative thinking and innovative approaches to our high-potential businesses. Their digital literacy, understanding and commitment to social change and ability to adapt quickly in an ever-changing environment are the edge Canadian companies need in today’s competitive global marketplace.

If we invest in our young people now, Canadian innovation will be poised to soar. All they need is the opportunity.

New graduates are the hires Canadian companies need most as they look to adapt and succeed in the new normal, but their transition to the labour market has been hammered by COVID-19 – particularly for young women. Even in the best of times, shifting from academia to the world of work has had its challenges.

Previous experience, including the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, shows that students graduating during a recession suffer reduced wage growth, slower career progression and fewer opportunities to apply their skills. The earnings gap can last a decade. These students risk becoming a lost generation. On the other hand, research also shows that companies that invest in talent and R&D will recover stronger and faster after a recession.

As the connector between our present situation and our future success, Mitacs will be a leader in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. In a year unlike any other, we partnered with the Government of Canada, provinces across the country to generate 17,000 internships to provide opportunities for students and drive innovation and economic development. Governments asked us to do more and we delivered.

The infusion of workforce talent and energy these hands-on opportunities provided for Canadian businesses of all sizes, coupled with the opportunity for experiential learning for our nation’s students, supported the battle against COVID-19 and helped to mitigate its economic impact.

In Ontario, an R&D lab engaged Mitacs to start researching how probiotics can prevent and possibly treat secondary infections some COVID-19 patients experience, with the goal of increasing patient recovery. Another small business now has two successful projects ongoing where they are working on ways to create accessible digital physical education for youth and have been able to bring most of their laid off employees back. A successful start-up from Silicon Valley partnered with Mitacs to set up shop in Toronto and now have a strong start to their Canadian R&D operations.

These are just some of the incredible collaborative and innovative success stories we’ve witnessed over the past year, and the potential for growth is undeniable.

Since the start of the pandemic, governments across the country have focused on keeping Canadians safe and financially secure.  Now, a year later, there is still a lot of work to do, but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. As we turn our attention toward economic recovery, we need to connect more young people with opportunities, leverage their skills and build the companies and research enterprises needed for Canada’s future.

On Monday, Chrystia Freeland will be the first woman to present a federal budget in Canadian history. The budget is an opportunity to think bigger about what comes next, for all of us to aim higher than we were before the pandemic.

There’s a role for government to play in addressing this reality and — given the economic realities before us — an urgency to get it right. Ramping up collaborative innovation will be essential to growing our economy and capitalizing on our strengths to bring new ideas to market. Together, we can ensure students get the help they need to launch a career during these difficult times while helping businesses of all sizes in communities across Canada.  Just like our young innovators, Mitacs is ready to answer the call.

John Hepburn is CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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